Lost piece of Delaware history donated by Newark collector

The chance of coming across a piece of history may be highly unlikely for some people but for Newark resident and historian Robert Barnes it’s the norm since he collects a variety of things from auctions. In fact, it was an auction that drew him to a book that was hiding a piece of history from the 1700’s.

The letter was written by John Hancock to the Delaware General Assembly in 1776. Hancock, the President of the Continental Congress at that time, wrote the December 30th letter requesting Delaware to send more men and supplies because of the “Strength and Progress of the Enemy.” It was written during the critical days following Washington’s victory at Trenton. In fact, on the back of the letter, Hancock acknowledged the Trenton victory by noting: “I congratulate you on the success of General Washington in the Jerseys.”

“It had been folded four times I believe, the writing was legible, it just had cracked where it had been folded but the state archives sent it off and had it preserved and authenticated,” said Barnes.

Barnes is frequent visitor to the Delaware Public Archives, and because of those trips he was able to spot Hancock’s signature. Last year he decided to donate the letter to the organization after holding on to it for more then ten years.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

“I had put the letter aside and found it again and just recently thought that the State of Delaware should have the letter and not be in private hands so I donated it to the State of Delaware,” said Barnes.

Now, people will soon be able to view a copy of the letter online.

“The letter will become a permanent part of our Legislative Papers collection, and we are making plans to make it accessible online in the near future.” said State Archivist and Delaware Public Archives Director Stephen Marz.

The Delaware Public Archives which holds government records and historical documents, is one of the oldest public archives programs around. Its mission is to make historic public records accessible to Delawareans and Barnes can say he actually played a part in it during his next visit to DPA.

“I love finding things state archives is a great place for research but auctions are a great place to find interesting pieces of history,” said Barnes.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal